TAUNTON escaped relatively lightly when a global pandemic struck a century ago.

It was one of the least affected towns in England as Spanish flu swept across the globe in 1918.

A third of the world population was infected with the virus and up to 100 million people died.

But only three English towns had a lower death rate than Somerset's county town.

Taunton had a death rate of 272 per 100,000 - with only Sutton (188), Woking (225) and Winchester (250) less affected.

The current Covid-19 death rate for Somerset West and Taunton, where 46 people have died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus, is 40.7 per 100,000.

The worst hit towns in England during the Spanish flu pandemic were Hebburn, with a death rate of 1,194 per 100,000; Jarrow (877); Kidderminster (849); Barnsley (835); and Wallsend (828).

Britain was in the final throes of the First World War when the Spanish flu pandemic struck in the summer of 1918, ensuring news of how serious it was in this country was kept out of the newspapers.

However, the papers were full of details of how many people were dying in Spain, which had stayed out of the war. That accounts for the name of the pandemic, but it seems more likely that the virus was actually spread by American troops arriving to fight in Europe.

Clare Bambra, a professor of public health at Newcastle University, said poor urban areas of England were worst hit, with wealthier people more likely to survive than poorer people in overcrowded housing or working in factories without social distancing.

She added: "Whilst infection rates may have been relatively uniform, more affluent sections of the population would have had better health care resources, better pre-existing health status and better housing conditions.

"These aspects of inequality are also important over 100 years later when examining the shape of the Covid-19 pandemic."